Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Will Google show us the code?

A couple of weeks ago, we attended a talk given by a Google researcher here at the CUNY Graduate Center. I went expecting a technical talk about Google's search algorithms, and found I had stumbled into a recruitment talk, complete with swag and brag.

As the slides went on, one thing became apparent: Google doesn't want you to know what its up to. On every second slide, our guest would point to some details about Google, and then remark, "of course, lots of things are just kept secret". (like how many Linux servers they own in their giant server farm). The irony of this state of secrecy maintained by a corporation whose mission is to make information available in the most convenient form possible was clearly lost on him (despite a question to this effect from me later on).

In any case, at question time, I asked him about whether Google had plans to release its source code. A rambling reply followed, about how Google does "want to give back to the community", how APIs have been released and so on. He then proceeded to make the following astonishing remark, "well, you know, we did take some stuff from the community like the code for the Linux kernel, but you know, we've customized it, so its completely new". Or words to that effect. Google picked Linux for technical reasons like customizability; something only possible on free software projects. But there is little that suggests that they will support the FOSS community other than the few bones that are being thrown out here. Perhaps I'm being too harsh; if so, feel free to write in, and tell me why Google's code offerings are significant.

In any case, a more interesting discussion followed shortly afterwards - more on that later.


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